Got Hormones?

You give your child milk money on their way to school, but maybe you wouldn't if you knew what was in that milk.

For years American dairy farmers have been injecting their cows with rBGH, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone. It's a genetically altered version of the cow's natural growth hormone that is used to increase the amount of milk the cow produces by 10%. The beef industry also uses this growth hormone to make larger cows. The problem is, rBGH is suspected to cause cancer. The studies backing up this claim are so convincing that the European Union banned the use of rBGH in 1988, and prohibited the importation of American dairy milk and beef because of our use of rBGH. Despite The World Trade Organization ruling in favor of the US in 1999, the EU still stands by their decision and continues to say no to American milk and beef because of the risk they carry.

Canada has also banned the use of rBGH. So why won't our government? But, I digress.

The use of rBGH is not only dangerous for the consumers, but for the cows themselves making them vulnerable to mastitis, lameness and reproductive complications. Udder infections are so prevalent in cows treated with rBGH that farmers now follow up the hormone injections with a series of antibiotics in an attempt to stave off or limit infections. If the thoughts of infected udders isn't enough to turn you off then read on. Along with the hormones, those antibiotics are also making their way into the milk and onto our school's lunch tables.

Millions of American consumers have decided that they will not settle for milk from cows treated with rBGH. Their voices are being heard. In 2007 Starbucks began using rBGH-free milk in their drinks. In 2008 Walmart began sourcing the milk for their private label (Great Value Milk) from rBGH-free dairies and Sam's Club also began providing rBGH-free brands on their dairy isles. These decisions were results of concerned citizens demanding change.

More recently, General Mills and Dannon announced their plans to phase out the use of rBGH milk in their yogurts by the end of the year. They would not admit that this was based on health and safety concerns, and maintained that it was a purely consumer driven decision. Whichever the case, those Yoplait's your child loves are now safer.

So how do you choose the right bottle when shopping for your milk? Only brands that say rBGH-free come from cows not treated. This labeling has been a great help to consumers wanting to make better choices. However, in Kansas this labeling was being fought. Dairy farmers who do use rBGH were obviously feeling the pressure, because a bill was passed that would have made it very difficult for those producers who are rBGH-free to advertise it on their labeling. The Kansas State Legislature actually passed the bill, but thankfully the concerned citizens rallied together again, contacting Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius (now the HHS Secretary in the Obama Administration) who subsequently vetoed the bill.

This is a great victory, but only the beginning. Over 430 million gallons of milk are being distributed to our public schools each year. Most of that milk comes from dairies that use artificial growth hormones. Shouldn't our children be given the very best? We've passed laws that require our children to wear bike helmets and not sit in the front seat of a car, isn't it time we start protecting them from the unseen dangers too?

Food & Water Watch have organized a petition to the Congress to allow schools to purchase hormone-free and organic milk. If you feel strongly about keeping our children safe from rBGH, take a moment now to sign the petition on their website.


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